“Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere.’ For the heart is the meeting-place of all the forces – spiritual and physical, light and dark, that compete for dominance in man’s nature. . . .” (McPherson 68-69). McPherson’s “heart” is the key to understanding the role of women in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Birthmark.”
Only imperfection is what nearsighted Aylmer sees in the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. But he is unfortunately oblivious to the virtue in her soul, the deep beauty contained in the depth of her love for him. The wife’s virtue leads her onward and upward; the husband’s lack thereof and inability to appreciate virtue in his Georgiana leads him downward and downward.
The concept of women is established in the very opening paragraph of “The Birthmark.” The narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist who found “a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one,” referring to his love for Georgiana. She is portrayed as having meaning in Aylmer’s life – not in first place, but in second place to his scientific interests.
Even after Aylmer has “persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife,” he is not capable of loving her properly, unselfishly, because he “had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion.” The narrator seeks to justify this error or lack in Aylmer by explaining that “it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy.” Already at the outset of the tale, the reader perceives that Georgiana is going to be shortchanged in this marriage. She is exposed to the problem initial…
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…el . The Birthmark Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
The Birthmark Essay: External and Internal Conflict in The Birthmark
External and Internal Conflict in “The Birthmark”
This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” to determine the external and internal conflicts in the tale.
In the opinion of this reader, the central conflicts in the tale – the relation between the protagonist and antagonist usually (Abrams 225) – are the external one between Aylmer and Georgiana over the birthmark on her cheek, and internal ones within Georgiana between love and self-interest and alienation, and within Aylmer regarding scientific good and evil, success and failure.
Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:
Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power. “Insulation,” he sometimes called it – which suggests not only isolation but imperviousness. It is the opposite of that “osmosis of being” that Warren has written of, that ability to respond and relate to others and the world. . . . it puts one outside the ‘magic circle’ or the ‘magnetic chain’ of humanity, where there is neither love nor reality (54).
Waggoner’s theme of alienation does play a part in the tale, but the theme which dominates is that of love conquering self as exemplified in Georgiana’s growing love for Aylmer. Her love transforms her very soul. “Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere’” (McPherson 68-69). “When he desired to build the kingdom of God, he looked for the pattern of it, not in history nor in the fortunes of those about him, but in his own heart (Erskine 180).
In the opening paragraph of “The Birthmark” the narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist who “had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.” Hawthorne’s…
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Erskine, John. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Leading American Novelists. New York: Books For Libraries Press, 1968.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark” Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library